Monday, February 27, 2006

Restoring Walt Disney’s Disneyland: The Pirate Ship and Skull Rock


Fantasyland was given a beautiful makeover back in 1984, but one of the central weenies of Walt’s childish fancy was an unfortunate victim of fate: Captain Hook’s Pirate Ship and Skull Rock.

The Jolly Roger, a colorful pirate galleon right out of Neverland, doubled as a snack stand - - home to tuna sandwiches and other seafood treats (your host: Chicken of the Sea). It premiered along with the park itself in 1955. The lush lagoon and fountains of Skull Rock were added as a backdrop a few years later.

Located where Dumbo is now, Hook's ship was a thrilling setpiece. Kids could reenact swordplay and derring-do on its ornate decks, while adults could have a relaxing bite or two in the tropical gardens below.

While cavorting on Hook's ship, a lost boy could feel the happy thoughts carry him away toward that Second Star to the Right. And talk about the perfect meet-and-greet location for Peter Pan, Captain Hook and Mr. Smee... Hook used to chase kids around the rocks, behind the falls and through the small caves of Skull Rock seeking revenge (and a photo op).

Flying directly above the galleon’s billowing sails and decks, the Skyway gave an even closer view of the ship's complex riggings.

The waterfalls of Skull Rock also added immeasurably to the atmosphere of Fantasyland. In fact, waterfalls used to be a far more prominent atmospheric element throughout the park, contributing a serenity that has been missing since Fantasyland's Skull Rock, Frontierland's Cascade Peak and other iconic falling waters of Disneyland ran dry.

Originally slated to be moved around near the StorybookLand entrance during the 1984 redesign of New Fantasyland, the pirate ship proved too delicate and crumbled when the cranes came. This was an unforeseen, unintended disaster. Sadly, no one ever budgeted to rebuild it!

Captain Hook's Pirate Ship and Skull Rock should return to the center of Fantasyland as Walt designed it - - Dumbo could easily make the transition over by Small World or StorybookLand. Or at the very least, the ship should be rebuilt at the new location intended in 1984 (on Small World Way).

The Pirate Ship was a central symbol of Walt’s recurring theme of remembering childhood and the spirit of youth (“I’ve seen that ship before… a long, long time ago when I was very young,” said Mr. Darling at the emotional resolution to “Peter Pan”). It seemed to underscore the point and complete the vision of Fantasyland. It was a fitting centerpiece to Walt's own park.

Disneyland has seemed less timeless; less the Never-Neverland it once was, without this beautiful oasis, one of most photogenic locales in the park.

We can't fly without the pixie-dust, fellas...

24 comments:

Steven H. said...

Your comments about kids being able to reenact swordplay reminded me of the phenomenon that is Jedi Training Academy at the Disney-MGM Studios (FL) during Star Wars Weekends. Each year during the Star Wars Weekends, a temporary stage is set up where a Jedi Master teaches young boys and girls how to use a lightsaber, and at the end of each lesson, Darth Vader and Darth Maul comes out to challenge the new students. The crowds EAT IT UP. As an insider who worked on the event, I know that this was one of our most popular offerings during that time (if not THE most popular). Kids loved being able to swing the swords and learn the art of swordplay (under the guise of it being futuristic), and parents loved seeing their kids getting to be "on stage". And what the executives liked the most was that it got young male boys engaged in the event. Young males are the hardest demographic for Disney to cater to. Little girls will eat almost all the offerings that we have up, whether it be Princess related (Cinderellabration) or Lion King oriented, and everything in between. However, when the executives see that they hved a successful offering that young boys are excited about and want to do, they try to milk it for all its worth. There have been ongoing talks to try and make Jedi Training Academy a year round thing because of its popularity with boys, but due to issues with Lucasfilm and Disney and terms of quality that has not yet been worked out, it has not gone through, suffice to say that Lucas wants the high level of quality for each show, and Disney is not able to find/fund the talent necessary. Which leads me to my point – why not create a pirate/peter pan themed swashbuckling show out in Disneyland that uses the pirate ship as it stage? Take the elements from the Jedi training academy and transport them almost directly into this show. Have an actor be something like the 1st lieutenant of the ship that is looking for new buccaneers. Teach them a simple sword combination (left shoulder, right shoulder, left leg, duck, left leg again, right left, cut to the head) and have them talk like a pirate (ARRR! and Ahoy Mateys!). Then have captain Hook come out and have them square off against him one at a time, repeating the combination to see if they pass the pirate test. The format is already tested and proven to work with Star Wars, which basically is futuristic sword fighting. This would be a great way to offer a simple but fun guest satisfying show that is low cost, but recreates the magic of being a pirate. We already own all the licenses and intellectual property that is necessary – it’s just a matter of implementing it using pre-existing areas, and this would be a fine way of melding them all together.
Great blogs by the way.

pariartspaul said...

I agree with the sentiment behind this article so much, and I think the whole idea of bringing back the Jolly Roger, Skull Rock and lagoon is a great one to contemplate. It did seem to work in the Old Fantasyland didn’t it? And it was definitely a magical place. (I remember my brother and I sneaking away from our parents way back in the 60’s to view the fireworks from the deck of the ship rather than the front of the castle.)

The Old Fantasyland had more of a mix of things – the theme was total Fantasy with an overlay of medieval pageantry. The present land is more like a real village, but still is a mix, with Monstro the whale still there, and the Dumbo ride at the back. There probably isn’t room to fit the ship back in the way it should be, but maybe it could be done over along the Small World path somewhere as originally planned for the early eighties New Fantasyland.

And what an absolute kick it would be to see it again proudly moored there! I think people would love it. And it would be SO un-90’s Corporate Disney! It should be done WITHOUT some major corporate synergy plan tied in to sell whatever the latest thing is…. how refreshing would that be?! It should be put there simply because it belongs. It should be designed just as it should be, with all the little magical places, and with the simple seating under the Skull Rock waterfalls. Not too overblown mind you – just enough to make it… dare I say it…. charming! I think it would be a hoot! Don’t think it’ll ever happen though.

Chris Tietz art directed an incredibly beautiful reconstruction of it for the Paris park and it was really something. And it was even painted in the same orange and gold colors of the original. But a few years back I noticed they painted the whole thing over in browns. Too bad.

Scott said...

Why not just reconstruct it in the old Motorboat Cruise area?

The water is there, there is certainly space available.

Anonymous said...

This is a great idea and would be a place where older vistitors could remember the past and children and young adults could create new memories.

A great place to put this would be the former Boat Cruise area. That areas gone without something for such a long time and with the arrival of the Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage This would tie in perfectly with the water theme.

If bringig Back this classic seems unlikely how about crossing the idea with the on going thought of a childs play area?

The Ghost Host said...

I do agree with you. A pirate ship and skull rock does seem to bring more magic then circling elephants.

The thing that has always bothered me about the 'flying attractions' (Dumbo the Flying Elephant, Astro Orbiter) is that they are all the same. Why do we need two of the same attraction with slightly different dressing? Also important to note is that both Dumbo and Astro Orbiter are copied from their Paris counterparts. Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom now has a third of this type of attraction, the Flying Carpets of Aladdin. So now we have three attractions.

But I'm getting off topic. I think that bringing back skull rock and the pirate ship, in some form, would definately be a great addition to Fantasyland.

Anonymous said...

Yes! Thank you. Right up there with the Sleeping Beauty walk-through, Fantasyland needs this back. Either back where it used to be, with a move for Dumbo, or the Small World walkway would both be great places.

Under the old Disney management, I couldn't imagine something like this coming back. A piece of scenery with little revenue (Assuming that a restaraunt would be on board like the original) would seem to have no value as a new attraction.

But sometimes looking at scenery is what people flock to the park for in the first place. Sometimes guests don't need an E-ticket ride and a 3 hour line to enjoy an afternoon. Please consider ideas like this.

Don said...

I never got to visit D'Land when the ship was still there, but I always knew about it, and it was a tremendous letdown to finally visit several years ago and not be able to see it.

Part of the problem? Unlimited passes. Everybody just wants more E-Tickets, now. Back the ABCDE day, you tried a broader range of attractions, because you'd probably bought a book of tickets that included them all. Then, semi-attractions ("scenery") made more sense, because people took more time to take it all in, because each ride cost a little extra. Now it's just a race from Space Mountain's FastPASS line to Indy's.

bigdaddyvalckx@gmail.com said...

That's really cool...I never knew that the Pirate Ship used to be located there. That's the kind of attractions I'd like to see developed again. Not a roller coaster, not a car on a track, but an entire environment that you can interact with and reach out and touch. Heaven forbid that we should have to use our imaginations a little bit...

Imagineer-in-Waiting said...

Doesn't this attraction live on at Disneyland Paris as do Captain Nemo's submarines?
One aspect of this did not get noted strongly enough. The Chicken-of-the-Sea tie-in. Granted Hook was a chicken (or a cod fish for the nitpickers). But, as I recall when Disneyland installed the McDonald's Fry Wagon, parents were outraged.
I kind of felt like "Well, there goes the corporate sponsorship idea".

epcotplanner said...

Some of the spirit of Neverland was captured over at the Disneyland Hotel pool remodel, which Tony Baxter and John Stone poured themselves into, despite a virtually non-existent "pool relocation" budget. I chose the Neverland and Fantasia / Sorcerer's Apprentice themes for the Disneyland Hotel because they work despite the overbearing presence of the 60s towers.

Joel said...

I'm with Don. I never got to see this attraction and feel that I missed a part of the original park's charm. The comments about the boy demographic make sense. It also seems less costly than a more engineered, technological attraction. A winner on many levels.

But I wouldn't sacrifice Dumbo. It's a charmer too ( albeit with too long a wait, or too short a ride ).

Anonymous said...

Fantasyland is fine as is. I can live without Skull Rock and the pirate ship. However, we DO need the motorboats, or some sort of water attraction installed in the big empty spot where the Motorboats once called home. The rumor that a playground was being considered for installation in that place is insulting to the memory of Walt Disney and the people that pay $60 to walk through the gates.

Keep moving forward and creating the “weenie” to move people thru to the next area. Not every space has to be taken up by a PIXAR ride. I love PIXAR and the PIXAR characters as much as the next guy, but let the parks be a separate entity unto themselves. The Submarines, Adventure Thru Innerspace, Pirates of the Carribean and The Haunted Mansion et al., were not based on anything but the daydreams of a batch of Imagineers who were allowed (and paid) to make those dreams reality. Do not for a second lose sight of that and people will return for generations to come.

RickG1977 said...

Agreed. Pixar rides have been great so far. But this is DISNEYland, not PIXARland. Don't get me wrong, I love the Pixar films. I love the characters and there is nothing more I would love to see than another Toy Story attraction and stuff based on The Incredibles and such. I am dying to see what the Finding Nemo attraciton is going to be like. However, I am wanting to see smething created by the Imagineers that isn't tied into any kind of movie and/or TV show. The Pirate Ship and Skull Rock would look really cool though in that area where the motorboats used to be.

Anonymous said...

Paris does indeed have a version of this, which like many other things is better than the original (although far less "original") - http://www.usermonkey.com/ParisHook.jpg

Casey

OperationsGal said...

If the Pirate Ship and Skull Rock were to return to Disneyland, about the only place it could fit would be the old motor boat cruise loading area.

There is simply no room in the original location. As it was built in 1983... Dumbo backs right up to Casey Jr.'s tracks, which back right up to StorybookLand's canals, which back right up to more of Casey Jr's tracks, which border a narrow backstage alley used for maintenance and custodial equipment, which backs right up to the Fantasyland Theater structure. It's very, very tight in the northern reaches of Fantasyland.

And don't get me started on the waste of space behind Dumbo with that 10 feet of unused walkway surrounding the caliope. If Dumbo had been pushed back just 10 more feet in '83 into that unused swath of walkway around the caliope there would be a lot more room between Dumbo and the Carousel. And then the horrible gridlock that happens there on anything above a 40K attendance day wouldn't happen.

Also realize that if you put the Pirate Ship in the old motorboat loading area, you just destroyed any chance of using the unused motorboat canals for a future ride track. You can't have a ride if you don't have a loading area.

doug r said...

Ironically, it may be a movie tie-in that could make this happen with Pirates II coming out...

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Anonymous said...

Please consider rebuilding the Pirate Ship and Skull Mountain. This was Walt's Dream and Design. It pays tribute to him and his great imagination that started it all. When I think of childhood fantasy and folklore, Pirates come to mind. I really don't think there should be a second thought. Sometimes to progress in life we need to look to the past.

Anonymous said...

I think Steven H's idea is really great. It sounds like fun, it's a combination of old and new ideas and it has sellability to get approval from the suits.

mr taste said...

my first visit to disneyland was in 1968, and the ship, and the incredibly evocative skull rock were still there. When i visited years later and found they had been removed, i was astounded that one of the most iconic and marvelous places in the park had been callously removed. water elements and their effects have been discussed in other posts on this blog (which i find to be endlessly entertaining and informative) and we need the pirate ship back.. given the current mania for all things pirate at disneyland, this seems like a no brainer.. but skull rock is even more important.. i'll never forget that image burned into my young brain.. i was transported.. literally..and THAT is the point of disneyland.

t rex said...

I was amazed when I turned a corner in Paris Dland and was sent into a flashback..There was the pirate ship and skull rock I used to marvel at when I was a little dino. Come to find out, they actually moved the original TO Paris Dland. Good to know it wasn't old drugs kicking in from my adolescence, but it was actually the real thing. Moving it back to America would probably not be a good thing to do because of 1:Cost and 2: it would leave a big empty spot in Paris Dland!
I loved it as a kid, but I think the space has been used better- and if I'm happy to know it's still alive, in a small yet very pretty park

BigCamera4892 said...
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Anonymous said...

I remember the pirate boat from when I used to take my kids there in the '60s. I enjoyed the tuna burgers. They were Chicken Of The Sea Tuna, spread on hamburger buns, and heated in an oven. The sandwich was like a hamburger only tuna fish was the meat. It is very hot, and delicious. I made them at home for my kids. They were good, but not as good as the ones from Disneyland.

The other thing I remember is that guests had a choice of either coke or pepsi. That was unusual, even for the 1960's, as companies either got coke OR pepsi, not both. Disneyland offered both. But no matter what you ordered, they put in so much ice that you barely got any soft drink in the cup at all.

I miss the Chicken Of The Sea Tuna Restaurant. And if it existed today, it would not only be delicious, but it would be the cheapest (money wise) and most nutritious food that Disneyland offers today.

I want the Chicken Of the Sea Tuna Restaurant Returned. And I want a choice of coke or pepsi. My secrete: I used to ask for the cup to be filled with 50% of coke, and 50% of pepsi for a real taste treat :)

Anonymous said...

I just returned from Disneyland- I was very disappointed to learn that the ship was no longer there. It is a big loss at the park. It is the core of Disney's mission and should have remained there.